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Donor stewardship: 3 ways to build relationships that last

Looking to create a donor stewardship plan that creates long-lasting relationships with your community? Start off on the right foot with these three donor stewardship best practices.

Rachel Ayotte
September 28, 2023
December 10, 2020
Nerd Mr Butter

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Donor stewardship sounds complex, but it simply refers to the steps your organization takes after a donor gives a gift to ensure you get another one. You're “stewarding” donors when you thank a donor, update them on the impact of their gift, and follow up with them to deepen that relationship.

In this article, we’ll teach you all donor stewardship best practices and clue you into some of the best secrets of successful stewardship.

What is donor stewardship?

Donor stewardship is the process by which nonprofits manage and nurture their donor relationships after they have made a contribution. It focuses on ensuring that donors feel valued, appreciated, and engaged, which can lead to continued support in the future.

For many nonprofit organizations and fundraising groups, their donor stewardship programs focus on goals like increasing their donors’ gift size. However, the ultimate goal of stewardship is to create meaningful, long-term relationships with your supporters.

3 strategies for successful donor stewardship 

1. Segment your donor base ✂️

Segmenting your donors into neat categories helps you tailor your stewardship strategy to individual groups of donors, based on their unique qualities and preferences.

There are many strategies to slice up your donor base into bite-sized, easy-to-manage pieces. You can segment according to:

  • Demographics (like gender, age, race, and location) 👤
  • Average donation amount 💸
  • Giving frequency 📈
  • Number of years they’ve supported your cause 📅
  • Donation preferences (online, by phone, by mail) 💌

Another segmenting best practice involves sorting supporters into a donor pyramid:

  • Major donors and planned givers
  • Recurring donors, mid-level donors, and high-frequency donors
  • First-time donors, small donors, low-frequency donors
  • Volunteers, supporters, and prospective donors

In theory, the highest level (major donors) comprises your high-value donors, usually the smallest group, while the lowest level of the pyramid is the bulk of your donor base. Your stewardship efforts should lift supporters from the bottom to the top of the pyramid, gradually flipping it upside down.

🚀 Pro tip: Let’s say it takes 36 months for your average first-time giver to become a monthly giver. Set a goal of decreasing this conversion time to 32 months, and then target this segment using the engagement techniques we cover below.

2. Communicate consistently 💬

You shouldn’t annoy your supporters with daily emails, phone calls, and donation request letters. But regular, purposeful donor communication strategy is crucial.

Examples of purposeful communication include:

When crafting your communication strategy, we recommend sharing:

  • Interesting articles and resources 📚 Initiate conversations, provide thought leadership, and educate supporters with eye-catching content. 
  • Impact stories and results 💛 Share your successes and emphasize how each dollar and hour made it possible—you can use videos, articles, infographics, reports, and more.
  • Frequent volunteer opportunities 🙌 While donors can’t always give, they may leap at the chance to volunteer or promote your fundraiser. 

🚀 Pro tip: Don’t forget in-person communications too, like community events, fundraisers, and even one-on-one visits. Remember to use each donor’s preferred communication channel! 

3. Reward support with gratitude and recognition 💛

Saying “thank you” is one of the easiest ways to cultivate loyal donors and steward future gifts.

Best of all, there’s no shortage of tactics to make your supporters feel good, whether they donated $1 or $10,000. Let’s dive right into some of the best recognition ideas:

  • Membership programs 🤝 Give specific donors access to a membership program that includes free event tickets, merchandise, or early access to news and updates.
  • Social media shoutouts 🗣️ Grab the social media megaphone and say thank you to donors by name with heartfelt posts, images, and GIFs. With Givebutter’s live supporter feed, you can connect with your amazing supporters right from your fundraising page to engage in a fun, familiar way.
  • Personal phone calls 📱 Have a member of your organization’s leadership reach out to your key supporters for a friendly, one-to-one conversation.
  • Video and audio messages 📹 Craft a brief, personalized video message to quickly connect with and appreciate donors online.
  • Honor rolls 🏆 Honor rolls organize donors according to their giving levels and are usually included in event brochures and other materials.
  • Naming rights 🌲 Give donors the chance to leave a legacy by naming buildings, benches, or trees!

When expressing gratitude, we recommend keeping the 3:1 ratio in mind: 

For every one donation, ticket purchase, or merchandise sale, aim to thank your supporters at least three times. 

For example, let’s say you received a $250 donation toward your food pantry program. You could send a donation confirmation email with a thank-you note, mail a handwritten card, and include the donor’s name in your year-end report.

🚀 Pro tip: If crafting the right recognition strategy seems complicated, send out a survey that asks each donor which messages, events, and gifts resonate with them and why. 

Do more with your donor stewardship with Givebutter

Donor stewardship techniques may change over time, but if your donors feel seen, heard, and appreciated, they’ll keep returning to support your mission year after year.

With Givebutter, nonprofits get access to a free nonprofit CRM, top-rated fundraising, marketing, and engagement tools, plus access to award-winning customer support. It doesn’t get butter than that!

Connect, engage, and fundraise—all in place

Ready to turn your donor stewardship ideas into action? Sign up for your free Givebutter account today to get started.

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Set up your peer-to-peer fundraiser for free in just a few minutes →

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